On this day in 1959
In the absence of new results and competitions to bring you each Monday, we're replacing our Weekend Round-Ups with some stories from the archives. As this weekend would have been the London Marathon, we start with a fantastic, but perhaps lesser-known, Welsh London performance, which at the time was a Welsh Record. A full history of Welsh Athletics can be explored here and Athletics Stats Wales provides a comprehensive set of statistics for the sport.
Clive Williams recalls what was happening in Welsh athletics around this time 61 years ago...
In April 1959, two of our finest junior athletes - both from Carmarthenshire - won their events at London Athletic Club’s invitation schools meeting at London’s White City, then the Mecca of UK athletics.
So what’s the big deal? Well, the LAC meeting, as it was known world-wide, was effectively the finest schools meeting in the UK at the time. This was because the schools' international match didn’t start until 1961when the Welsh Secondary Schools AAA hosted the competition at Maindy Stadium, Cardiff. And then only Wales, Scotland and England took part, with Ireland joining in the competition later.
The Welsh winners at The White City that day in 1959 were John Williams and John Davies.
Williams, of Queen Elizabeth GS Carmarthen, was already a teen prodigy. He had run in the previous year’s Cardiff Empire Games as a 17-year-old having run the fastest time in the UK for an athlete of his age over 880 yards - 1:54.2 (800m equivalent 1:53.5). This time would have ranked him as the second-fastest Welsh under 20 800m runner last year. That’s how good he was.
But he caused a sensation at the White City, by firstly winning a heat of the mile in a new Welsh junior (17-19) and meeting record of 4:21.1 and then taking his heat of the 880 yards in a casual 1:58.5. Controversially, he decided to miss the mile final the following day and just run in the half-mile which he won in 1:56.9, 8 tenths of a second ahead of future European 1,500m champion, John Whetton.
Such was the status of the meeting at the time that a picture of John winning the race appeared on the front page of Athletics Weekly and a report of the LAC event took up two full pages. [Image Credit Athletics Weekly]
Later in 1959, Williams won the 880y in the Wales v Scotland schools international in Colwyn Bay with 1.55.5. This meeting was the forerunner of the present-day SIAB annual schools track and field championships. Incidentally, also in the Welsh team that day was triple jumper Peter Williams, uncle of 2012 European 400 hurdles champion Rhys and Welsh Athletics interim CEO, James. Of course, Rhys and James are the sons of Welsh rugby legend JJ Williams. Daughter Kathryn also competed for Britain as a junior.
John Williams not only excelled at 880 yards. He also ran the fastest 1500m time by a UK junior (17-19) that year with 3:49.8 finishing ahead of former mile world record holder Derek Ibbotson in the Birchfield Harriers floodlight meeting in Birmingham. John’s best ever time for 880 yards was set in 1963 with 1:49.7, equivalent to 1:49.0 for 800m.
Wales was blessed with half-milers in 1959 as 18-year-old Bridgend-born Tony Harris, who became the first Welshman to better 4 minutes for the mile in 1965 with 3:58.96 was Britain’s top junior (17-19) over 880 yards clocking a UK junior record of 1:50.9.
Also winning that day was John Davies (Llanelli GS) who took the shot with 15.66m. He was Britain’s top junior (17-19) shot putter that year setting a Welsh junior record with the senior implement of 14.53m. He was also a winner in that schools international with Scotland.
Sadly Williams died 10 years ago in Australia whilst Davies died during the 1960s.
Other items making the news at this time 61 years ago:
- April 11th: The 11th annual International YMCA cross-country championships were held in Rhyl with Scotland’s Andy Brown taking the title after a close tussle with Jim O’Brien of Wales.
- April 18th: Shrewsbury beat Wrexham, Oswestry and East Shropshire in an inter club match.
- April 28th: Welsh long jump champion Ray Gazzard of Birchgrove Harriers jumped 7.28m to better Bryan Woolley’s Welsh record at an inter-club meeting but the pit at Cardiff University’s track at Llanrumney was found to be slightly below the level of the runway so was discounted. Roath’s 1958 Empire Games sprinter John Jones took both sprints in 10.4 (100 yards) and 23.4 (220 yards). On the same day in Loughborough, Wooley (6.88 long jump) and fellow North Walian Richard Dodd (13.45 triple jump) won their events at the College’s trials. Like Jones, both competed in the 1958 Games along with Gazzard.
- April 30th: Brian Sexton of Roath Harriers breaks his own Welsh javelin record with 62.94m competing for AAA v Oxford University at Iffley Road.
- May 2nd: Ron Franklin (Newport) and Brian Lee (Roath) win Monmouthshire and Glamorgan titles in the Newport 20 miles road race. Welsh lifetime achievement award winner Ivor Adams of Newport was third in the race. Welsh cross-country international Bob Roath wins the Surrey 20 miles road race.